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Plan for free tuition at community colleges proposed

By   Harry Lipsiea

Published in Devils Lake Journal January 16, 2015

During the annual State of the Union address, set for Tuesday, January 20, television audiences will hear the president of the United State discuss a plan that could positively affect a local institution.

In Knoxville, Tenn., Barack Obama announced a proposed initiative last week to provide high school graduates free tuition at community colleges throughout the nation. 

The president notes that the initiative would be part of an effort to decrease of the nation's income inequality.
Unknown impact

"On the surface, it sounds very good," Dr. Doug Darling, president at Lake Region State College. "It's an opportunity that I am very excited about."

So far, however, few details are available on the proposal. Due to this, it is hard to know exactly what its potential impact could have on Lake Region State College and four other two-year colleges in the state, Dr. Larry Skogen, interim chancellor of the North Dakota University System, told the Journal in a phone interview early this week.

"There just isn't enough known to really talk about how this may affect our state," Skogen commented. "We know what the proposal and plan is, but the details are kind of sketchy right now."

Darling agreed stating that is hard to know what the proposal's impact would be without more specific information.

"The devil is in the detail," he said. "With these kinds of plans, it comes down to the specifics."

What is known about the initiative is that funding would apply to community and junior colleges that offer credits toward four-year degrees as well as training programs. Lake Region State College offers both.

The chancellor pointed out that it has been indicated, if passed, the community college plan would be funded 75 percent by the national government and 25 percent from each state.

Both students and community colleges would bare responsibility. To be eligible, it has been announced that students would need to achieve at least a 2.5 GPA. Institutions would work to increase graduation rates.

"The plan is about providing access to all students interested and willing to work to attend college," Darling stated.
That is, however, almost all that is known about the proposal's cost and financial impact on each state.

"The states' responsibility would be to cover one-fourth of the program's cost," Skogen pointed out. "It appears that each state would have the option to participate in the plan. But for now, that's a long ways a way."

Obama's initiative is based on a current tuition agreement in Tennessee named the "Tennessee Promise." The bill provides two years of tuition at a community college or college of applied technology for any high school graduate who agrees to work with a mentor, complete eight hours of community service, and maintain at least a C average.

"There are several states currently talking about trying the same thing," Darling said. "We're just going to have to see where it goes from here."

While there are many details to discuss and decisions to be made before the proposal becomes close to a reality, the chancellor is glad that Obama's recent announcement will bring about a conversation regarding community college.

"It's certainly a good place to start talking about it," Skogen said. "Anytime we talk about student affordability and ways to cut student debt it's a good thing."

Specifically, the fact that the benefits of community colleges are coming to the forefront is very exciting, he said. In the past, two-year institutions have not been discussed on the national stage.

"President Obama has been tremendously supportive regarding the community college mission.”